It’s no more a mere brew that cheers. The humble tea has been taken out of dabhas and roadside kiosks, blended with tulsi, turmeric and other herbs to further enhance its immune-boosting properties and has become the brew of choice in these Covid times.

As Indian Tea Association Secretary Sujit Patra says: “There are several research studies to prove that tea can help boost immunity. In fact, the ITA, the Tea Board and several individual players have been highlighting the health benefits of drinking tea on various social media platforms.”

So, the good old simple tea, the green tea, which is commonly associated with weight loss, and chamomile tea, recommended for stress relief, have made way for varieties like immunity-boosting “tulsi green tea”, turmeric tea or the new-found weight-loss “dandelion tea”.

Hot sales online

If you need a proof of the new brew — to slightly alter the old saying — e-commerce platforms are reporting hot sales. Indeed, e-tailers were the first to benefit from the surging demand for value-added teas or niche offerings, especially as boutique players came on board with a variety of new offerings.

Corroboration comes from Sushant Dash, President, Packaged Beverages – India, Bangladesh and Middle East, Tata Consumer Products, who details how, post the Covid outbreak, the company promoted its “Tata Tulsi Green” on e-commerce platforms and it has seen a surge in demand.

The offering was introduced across select cities and channels in September 2019, but “We have seen demand in May-June going up significantly while on a limited base compared to launch period months. The plan is to continue to invest in the brand,” he says.

Adds Rudra Chatterjee, MD, Luxmi Tea and owners of the iconic Makaibari estates in Darjeeling: “There is more interest in consuming teas that are traditional and good for health. Not only are the flavoured teas doing well, but natural flavours like tulsi, turmeric, lemongrass are the ones in demand.”

In the last few months of lockdown the usually high home consumption — a 2018 Tea Board survey found that 75-85 per cent of tea-drinking happens at home — would have gone up even further. Not just that, people are also upscaling.

“Increased home consumption also means better quality and more flavoured tea being consumed as against those at dhabas which are more inclined towards volume (more cups per 100 grams),” says Luxmi Tea’s Rudra Chatterjee.

Marico says select offerings under the Saffola FITTIFY Gourmet brand that include Moringa Green Tea and Green Coffee have “trended well”.

And, post unlocking, offline retailers and wholesalers too are perking up as enquiries and sales rise. According to a spokesperson of METRO Cash & Carry India, consumption of beverages, especially tea and coffee, has witnessed a growth since the Covid outbreak. “As far as tea is concerned, we saw a 70 per cent growth in the immunity and green tea categories in trader/kirana customer segment,” he said.

Prices move up

The pandemic-induced spike in tea consumption, as can be expected, pushed up prices of leaves and dusts. The average price of tea at auction centres in the east is up 60-75 per cent this July compared to last year. The price of CTC leaf and dust sold at the Kolkata auction centre was up by 60 per cent at ₹286.15 a kg at last week’s auction compared to ₹179.47 a kg the same period last year. The Guwahati auction centre saw prices move up to ₹281.23 a kg, nearly 74 per cent higher than the ₹161.31 a kg last year.

Industry sources, however, also say the jump in price could be due to a drop in production. This year tea production had dipped by 140-150 million kg in the eastern and north-eastern belts up to July compared to the same period last year.

No doubt traders’ cup of cheer is on the boil. But in the tea gardens, where the pandemic affected the picking of the highly priced first and second flush leaves, it’s been a brew of discontent. But that’s different story.